How To Cross A River With Your Bicycle

Brrrrr.... Being able to cross or ford a river with your bicycle is a handy skill.

You just never know when heavy rains or seasonal floods will take out a stretch of road. Being confident enough to get across the water can save you a long detour. It can also be fun and add an extra sense of adventure to your trip.

Our most recent experience with crossing a washed out road was in Andalucia. We produced this video to show you how we crossed it and we’ve also written down some tips for you (see below the video).

How To Do It – Tips For Crossing Water With Your Bicycle

1. Pick Your Location

Scan the water. Look for the most shallow, level spot where you can cross. If the water is clear, you may spot an obvious crossing point immediately. If it’s murky and muddy, you may have to wade in to see how deep the water is and whether there are any obstacles in the river. Look for islands and see if you can “hop” across the river from one island to the other. Pay attention to currents and stay away from fast-moving water if possible.

2. Decide If You Can Ride Across

If you’re confident there are no huge potholes or rocks lurking under the water and if the water is only a few inches deep, it’s often possible to ride across. Once you decide to ride across, start cycling a few meters before the water so you can build up momentum. When you reach the water, don’t panic. Pedal steadily to keep a constant momentum.

3. Keep Your Clothing Dry

When walking your bike across a river, take steps to keep yourself as dry as possible. Take off your socks and shoes and sling them over your handlebars. Wear sandals if you have them, to protect your feet from sharp rocks. Roll up your pants to at least knee level.

4. Consider Taking Panniers Off The Bike

If the river crossing is particularly tricky it can help to remove some panniers. This makes the bike a bit easier to hold on to and control against a current.

5. Be sensible.

Some rivers can’t be crossed safely. Only proceed if you are certain about getting safely to the other side.


  1. Doug W
    9th February 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Good tips! Had to deal with about 8 or so river crossings during TransRockies in BC. Lots of cold water and plenty of holes and rocks. Sure glad I didn’t have to deal with panniers. 😉

    • friedel
      9th February 2011 at 7:40 am #

      My legs hurt just looking at that cold water!

  2. Ingrid
    9th February 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Hey! Great video. It’s reassuring to see you laughing. What would you recommend, holding the bike on the current side or not? Would the bike slow down a bit of the current force?

    • friedel
      9th February 2011 at 11:15 am #

      Hi Ingrid! If the current is really strong, I’d recommend taking the panniers off the bike and carrying everything across. Not only will the current be less of a problem this way, but if the water is deep you also won’t watch the grease and lube on your chain and in your hubs and bottom bracket be washed away.

      • Ingrid
        9th February 2011 at 12:42 pm #

        Oh, you really think about everything, don’t you? How did you find this path. Was it even on the map? Quite extreme, this choice of way. 😉 You’re still Canadians: tough and always happy. I’ll never forget as you left us. It was freezing cold and almost snowing. You said: “We are Canadians, you know, that doesn’t bother us.” We are still impressed.
        Hugs from a wimp. 😉

        • friedel
          9th February 2011 at 3:10 pm #

          Hi Ingrid, it was actually part of the TransAndalus trail and normally it would be fine to go across but just before we arrived they had 3 days of heavy rain and so the path got washed out. We were so far down the track by that point, we really didn’t want to turn around so braving the cold water was actually more appealing!

      • Doug W
        9th February 2011 at 4:22 pm #

        Ditto. It’s far better to take multiple trips than risk dunking your entire kit. I try to never let my bikes in water/mud that can reach the rear derailleur or hubs. The one exception would be that if there is a moderate current and a rocky unever riverbed, the bike can be used to help stabilize you and give you some much needed balance. Not only for rivers and creeks, but also for precarious log crossings (think of that scene in Dirty Dancing on the log).

  3. woollypigs
    9th February 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    But, what about the crocodiles?

    We had a river crossing in NZ were the current was that strong it moved stones the size of a football. Nearly knocked us both over, we should probably have taken the panniers off, To make it easier to control the bikes.

    I would post the video but there is rather many expletive words in it, since the water was rather cold, melted snow water.

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